In one of the most important pieces of literature in the 20th century, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston brilliantly captured an unfortunate truth about Black womanhood in the following passage:

So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin’ fur it tuh be different wid you.

My mind wanders to this passage- written in the 1930’s when I think about the constant attack of Black women in the media. The vilification and debasement of Black women has a long, troubled history in America that lingers with its rotten stench into our pseudo post-racial society.

Michelle Obama’s presence in the White House has invoked a plan of sorts, by certain individuals and entities, to defy her image by reinforcing all things negative about Black women.

Every week there is a new study focusing on how and why Black women are at the bottom of the totem pole in the land of the free.

Psychology Today is the most recent culprit participating in the campaign to demean Black women. Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa deemed it appropriate to write an incredibly flawed article, using equally flawed science titled, “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” In April it was Cassandra Dorius, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, whose study found that 59 percent of Black women have children by multiple fathers. Before that it was the abortion ad in SoHo claiming the most dangerous place for a child is in the Black woman’s womb. Prior to the SoHo ad there was the study that found Black women’s median wealth to be $5. And of course, there are the ambiguous studies, articles and broadcast segments that will have you believe Black women, especially successful ones, are so undesirable they cannot find Black men to wed.

Let’s not forget the attacks on Michelle Obama early in her husband’s campaign and inauguration into office. A segment of our very ill and racist society hated the idea of a loving, supportive and intelligent Black woman so much that the erroneous Fox News Network reduced her to a “baby mama.” Her senior thesis at Princeton garnered her the label of a racist. God forbid someone write a thesis on if the Black alumni of Princeton will be “more or less motivated to benefit the Black community.” And her infamous statement, “for the first time in my adult life I’m proud of my country,” where sound bites conveniently clipped “adult life” from the speech, was used as some sort of litmus test to prove how unpatriotic she was.

The image of both President Obama and the First Lady in the White House has been a triumphant victory for Blacks. Not because his policies will essentially pull our community out of its rut, but solely because Barack and Michelle’s image, globally, awakens the world to the multiplicity of Blacks in America. They represent what is far too often ignored.

It is painstakingly obvious that far too many people consider a beautiful, intelligent, elegant, Ivy-league educated couple devoid of scandal as dangerous because it challenges the very depictions of Blacks that support people’s unchallenged biases.

Michelle’s image, in particular, has defied the effects of Regan’s “welfare queen” campaign. Whenever she speaks, her words dispel the idea that we are somehow intellectually inferior. Her very existence is contrary to all of the misguided boxes Black women are placed in–attitudinal, hypersexual, loud, inarticulate and uncouth. And because she represents the countless Black women who are none of those things, dubious forces are operating in overdrive to counter her positive image.

Be very clear about what is happening and what will continue to get worse as idiots, racists and sexists are given platforms. bell hooks eloquently describes it better than I ever could:

So what we see is that the mass media, film, TV, all of these things, are powerful vehicles for maintaining the kinds of systems of domination we live under, imperialism, racism, sexism etc. Often there’s a denial of this and art is presented as politically neutral, as though it is not shaped by a reality of domination.

America cannot comprehend a country where Black women hold advanced degrees; a world where we are more qualified than our White counterparts. It is beyond comprehension for the ilk of the Bill O’Reilleys of the world to imagine a country where not all Blacks were raised in the ‘hood. Our racist nation cannot fathom the legions of Black women who have some of the shared experiences as our First Lady.

As long as Black women are getting ahead of ourselves in thinking we can achieve anything, futile articles on why we’re less attractive will continue to be published. Our reproductive practices will continue to be viewed as a spectacle for everyone to see, and the attacks on our personhood will continue to flourish.

What we must remember is that the media does not define us. They do not understand us, and have no desire to. Know that this is deliberate.

But we must not grow weary. We must continue to uplift one another. Use our voices to tell our multifaceted stories. Our mere existence is a testament against an oppressive system that would rather we continue on as the mules of the world Zora noted decades ago. But like Zora, we must not “weep at the world.” We should be “too busy sharpening our oyster knife.”

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233 Comments

  1. Bola UK

    Great article astounding responses even from ignorant too. Here in the UK its the same. Black women populate mid management positions where they are constantly in the firing line from superiors and subordinates. Michelle Obama is an African woman. Very empowering that she exists in that position. What is all this nonsense about Black being defined or ‘classified’ by body weight are there no fat white women in the world?

    Body fascism is insiduous the world over, but the way Black women are labelled agressive and ignorant too if they are overweight is quite amazing.

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    • sarah

      well not really she is a american woman with brown skin she is an american and as soon as they all relax an realize that they are all the same they will go really far ..as a mixed woman who lives in the uk i haven’t had too much rubbish regarding my skin tone but i notice some odd comments on occasion the problem with humans is we want to have more than the next man…its the recourse of people with a low IQ ..in every culture you have lower classes yobs upper class snobs fat men/women..but we all like to feel superior lets face it the easiest way to discriminate is on physical features oh well the human race has come along way lol ..history has some of the most beautiful people beings have been from non European countries but who cares about the facts

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  2. The Other Jess

    Well, the Obama’s have been re-elected as President and First Family. Get ready, ya’ll! The smear campaign will kick into full overdrive now! Everyone who has ever been jealous or angry atthefact that there are 3 Black women sitting high up top will be doing everything in ther power to cut us down, in the manner this article states. That would include the media powers who will start and encourage the anti-Black woman propaganda, Black men, Latins and white women and men of certain types. Just watch – again Black women will be visibly removed from positive media, degraded, with attempts at humiliation. There are MANY people very angry that Black women are in highly visible powerful positions, even some who voted for President Obama. Get ready! It’s back to the races!

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  3. Excellent article, its very true! I swear, it never ends! Now they are complaining about Rice in the media nonstop! Its always something for them to whine about, especially whenever there is an African American woman in a position of power in any situation.

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  4. felicia

    I love Michelle she proved that you dont have to be mixed or white to be in a good marriage. I love the fact that she will be in the office for four more years. I ask for evetbody to keep praying to protect Michelle Obama and barack. The whole family

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  5. Beauzeaux

    Many many feminists have written about the attacks on Mrs. Obama. Maybe not every feminist everywhere but I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole group of people based on a few no-account lowlifes.

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